I meet owners who haven't forgiven themselves for mistakes they made with their dogs in the past. These 'mistakes' might have been using a particular training method that they now view as unkind, getting frustrated, or misinterpreting their dog's fear/pain as naughtiness, or providing what they now consider to be inadequate exercise, cuddles, support, whatever. The guardians I've met have sometimes felt so guilty and ashamed of the previous errors that they are struggling to move on. In their head they are still beating themselves up about the past. Sometimes it has taken them a long time to seek professional help because they are afraid to be confronted by, or criticised for, their mistakes. Sometimes they're not even 'bad' mistakes! I frequently hear clients berating themselves for spoiling their pets as if giving affection and 'too much' care were wrong! My response to that is always, "We have pets to pet them" or "Of course! Your dog is your family!" This practice of self-castigation that I so often come across, takes up room in the mind and heart of the person that could be focused on enjoying their dog more fully now, and building a brighter future.
I'd like to take a moment to say that pet professionals have a responsibility to teach human clients kindly. If we wouldn't criticize an animal for making mistakes because we want them to be engaged and confident learners, why would we do it to their human teammate? Mistakes are part of life. No biggy! Of course we'll want to identify what hasn't worked in the the past. I always attempt to do this in such a way that no blame is laid. We draw a line in the sand and create new strategies that make the human-dog team feel great.
Why am I not cross or judgemental about owners' mistakes of the past?
- I only see owners who love and are dedicated to helping their dog. That's why they booked me!
- I've made a ton of mistakes in the past
- I know the owner can change, so I see no purpose in focusing on crap
- I know worry and self-blame can be reinforcing so I'm not prepared to go there
- We are doing this together and formulating a plan of action
- The owner has chosen to come to class, I want them to be pleased with their decision
Is shame guilt, fear or uncertainty holding you back? And if so, why should you forgive yourself for mistakes and move on? Probably, the choices you made in the past were the best you could make with the skillset, knowledge and environment you had at the time. Now you know more and have a different set up, you can improve! This is the nature of life and of course it is uncomfortable sometimes. Maturity is making peace with the discomfort rather than sticking head-in-sand, keeping to the same old known-to-be-inadequate routines, criticising self or others.
Perhaps you feel that your guardianship skills are spot on and you've been doing a great job caring for your fur family. But are you spending time criticising others and shocking yourself with abuse and neglect stories on tv or social media? A lot of people do this and maybe they could reconsider the way they spend that time and direct it positively towards doing Stuff with the animals in their life, or being kind to someone else. We do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at the time. But more than that, we are affected by our health and our wellbeing. Emotionally if we are in a bad place it is unlikely that we will be able to give our best. So help your dog out by being kinder to yourself and others.
I hope this post was useful to you and please comment below to let me know.
Until next week, happy training! Love from Lucy x